New research shows safe vertical flying distance for drones around marine mammals

New Zealand researchers have found the safest distance to fly your drone above marine mammals to minimise disruption to wildlife.

The findings will be used worldwide, but here it may mean changes to the Department of Conversation's current rules, which only measure a horizontal distance.

AUT Conservation Biologist, Dr Barbara Bollard, said people were getting very close to wildlife in order to capture that perfect moment.

"People had actually got so close to whales that they were taking samples of their breath," she said.

There was no research on how close was too close, which prompted Dr Bollard and her Masters' student Ticiana Fetterman to find the answers.

"We needed to find out when are the animals disturbed by drones, what is their trigger point?" Dr Bollard said.

They researched bottlenose dolphins off Great Barrier Island.

Dr Bollard said if the dolphins were annoyed they would slap their tails, chin slap and do a few things to indicate there was something disrupting them.

The research found marine mammals were disturbed when a drone flew 10 metres or less above them, a buffer zone between 10 and 25 metres, and no disturbance above 25 metres.

Current Deartment of Conservation rules state you cannott harrass marine mammals with a drone by chasing, herding, or scattering them. You must also fly at least 150 metres horizonallty away from any marine creature.

Acting Manager Marine Species and Threats Lou Hunt said it was now looking at this new research on vertical distances and may ammend the rules.

Disturbances affected marine mammals' long term viability, Dr Bollard said.

"It affects how they work as a population, it affects their stress levels and so forth."

She said although the research was around dolphins the findings informed best practice for all marine mammals.